Shark sanctuary

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Photo of desiccated shark skin hanging on hook
Dried shark skin and fins for sale in market

A shark sanctuary is an area that forbids commercial fishing operations from targeting and retaining caught sharks, including their fins. The first shark sanctuary was created by Palau in 2009. It was followed by Maldives, Honduras, The Bahamas and Tokelau.


Every year, fishermen pull "up to 73 million"[1] or "some 100 million" sharks from the world's oceans.[2] The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that more than half of shark species are overexploited or depleted.[3] Globally, 21% of shark species whose extinction risk has been assessed fall into the "threatened" categories, and 18% are "near threatened", while 35% lack sufficient data to decide, leaving 26% in the unthreatened category.

The search for shark fins drives the illegal hunting trade. Some jurisdictions permit fishing for fins and food. Sharks are also caught as bycatch when fishing for marlin, tuna and other varieties.[2]

Sharks generally reach sexual maturity only after several years of life and produce very few offspring in comparison to other harvested fish. Harvesting sharks before they reproduce has severe impacts on future populations.

National and international status[edit]

Many nations restrict shark catches and shark finning.

Pacific Islands[edit]

Palau created the world's first so-named "shark sanctuary" on September 25, 2009.[2][4] Palau forbids all commercial shark fishing within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters. The sanctuary protects about 600,000 square kilometres (230,000 sq mi) of ocean,[2] an area similar to the country of France.[5][6][7][8] President Johnson Toribiong made the announcement at a meeting of the United Nations.[6][9][10] President Toribiong also requested a worldwide ban on shark fishing.[6] Palau is home to 135 endangered or vulnerable shark and ray species.[11]

The Maldives created a sanctuary in March, 2010.[12] Tokelau declared its entire EEZ a shark sanctuary in 2011.[13]

On February 25, 2011, Guam, a US island territory, voted to ban commerce in fins. Guam's Senate passed a bill banning the sale, possession and distribution of the fins.[14]

In August, 2011, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Guam announced plans to join Palau in a region-wide sanctuary that covers 2,000,000 square miles (5,200,000 km2) of ocean.[15]

Kiribati, another Pacific island state, and the US operate Earth's largest marine reserve.[2]


Honduras prohibited the taking of sharks in its national waters as of February 2010.[1]

The U.S. bans shark finning on all U.S.-flagged vessels, forbids the taking 19 species of sharks including white, whale, and basking sharks and shares lists of illegal vessels with established fishing companies, helping them report illegal activities. The U.S. also assesses the health of many of its shark populations and includes sharks in its various Fishery Management Plans.[16] Hawaii has banned the sale and possession of shark fins. The states of California, Oregon and Washington are considering similar bans.[17]


In 1991 South Africa became the first country in the world to declare great white sharks a legally protected species.[18]


In February 2009, the European Commission proposed first-ever shark conservation rules for European waters, although these are not outright bans. EU countries account for one-third of global shark meat exports.

Shark steaks are increasingly served in restaurants. Shark parts are also used in lotions and leather sports shoes.[11]


Taiwan banned shark finning in 2012.[19]

Israel - All elasmobranchs are fully protected in Israel's territorial waters, in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Gulf of Aqaba (northeastern Red Sea), since 2005, making these effective shark sanctuaries.

Shark fishery[edit]

Graph of shark catch from 1950 to 20114, linear growth from less than 300,000 tons per year in 1950 to about 850,000 per year in 2000, before falling below 800,00 in the 2006-08 period.
The annual shark catch has increased rapidly over the last 50 years.

After reaching about 0.9 million tonnes in 2003, catches of the “sharks, rays and chimaeras” group declined to 0.75 million tonnes in 2006, a drop of 15 percent.,[20] numbering some 100 million fish.[21]

Country Capture (2000)[22]
 Indonesia 112,000
 Spain 77,300
 India 72,100
 Pakistan 51,200
 Taiwan 45,900
 Mexico 35,300
 Japan 33,100
 USA 30,900
 Sri Lanka 28,000
 Argentina 25,700
 Malaysia 24,500
 France 22,800
 Brazil 18,500
 New Zealand 17,700
 Great Britain 17,400
 Thailand 16,200
 Peru 15,400
 South Korea 15,400
 Maldives 13,500
 Canada 13,500
 Nigeria 13,200
 Senegal 10,800
 Portugal 9,100
 Australia 8,100
Total 828,400

Drivers of the shark trade[edit]

Shark fin soup

Sharks are a common seafood in many places around the world, including China (shark-fin soup), Japan, Australia (fish and chips under the name flake), in India (under the name sora in Tamil language and Telugu language), and Icelanders eat Greenland sharks as hákarl.

The practice of live finning, where a fisherman removes the fin with a hot metal blade and releases the dying animal occurs with some frequency,[21] but is not a prevalent practice, with most fins taken with the entire animal.[23] Around 80% of shark fins are derived as accidental by-catch, which are quickly sold to the market due to their high price.[23] Shark finning has become a major trade within black markets all over the world with shark fins going at about $300/lb in 2009.[24]

European consumers consume dogfishes, smoothhounds, catsharks, makos, porbeagle and also skates and rays.[25] However, the U.S. FDA recommends that children and women who are or may be pregnant should refrain from eating shark. For details see mercury in fish.

In the East Asian region, use of shark cartilage in preparing soups is considered a health tonic. Hong Kong imports it from North and South American countries, particularly for use in either a cooked format or to prepare boiled soup, as a health fad, by mixing it with herbals supplements.

Another large demand for shark cartilage is for manufacture of "Shark Cartilage Powder" or pills as a cure for cancer. The anti cancer claims of such powders marketed in many parts of the world has been discounted by the US Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commissions and medical studies.[26] In spite of such injunctions, the trade in this powder continues and the shark cartilage powder is still widely marketed as a cancer cure, stated to be selling at US$145 per gram.[27] It is also stated that in Costa Rica, one single firm alone processed 235,000 sharks every month to manufacture cartilage pills.[27]

Seafood Watch recommends that everyone avoid eating shark.[28]

The majority of shark fisheries around the globe have little monitoring or management. With the rise in demand for shark products there is a greater pressure on fisheries.[29] Sharks experience a long interval between birth and sexual maturity, such that many sharks never reach maturity. In some species, populations have declined by over 90% over the past 20–30 years with decline of 70% not unusual.[30]

The practice of shark finning, attracts much controversy and regulations are being enacted to prevent it from occurring. The acclaimed 2007 documentary, Sharkwater exposed how sharks are being hunted to extinction, in part due to the massive Asian demand for shark fin soup.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b MAC, RICK (September 22, 2010). "Honduras and Micronesia Throw Down Global Challenge to Save Sharks". Deep Sea News. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e Black, Richard (25 September 2009). "Palau pioneers 'shark sanctuary'". BBC. Archived from the original on 1 October 2009. Retrieved 25 September 2009.
  3. ^ Tedmanson, Sophie (September 26, 2009). "World's first shark sanctuary created by Pacific island of Palau". London: TimesOnline. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  4. ^ "Palau creates world's first shark haven". The Philippine Star. 2009-09-26. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  5. ^ Urbina, Ian (2016-02-17). "Palau vs. the Poachers (Published 2016)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  6. ^ a b c "Palau's EEZ becomes shark sanctuary". Xinhua News Agency. 2009-09-27. Archived from the original on 2009-09-30. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  7. ^ Sophie Tedmanson (2009-09-26). "World's first shark sanctuary created by Pacific island of Palau". The Times. London. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  8. ^ Ker Than (2009-09-25). "France-Size Shark Sanctuary Created -- A First". National Geographic. Archived from the original on September 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  9. ^ "Palau creates shark sanctuary to protect tourism and prevent overfishing". Radio New Zealand. 2009-09-27. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  10. ^ Cornelia Dean (2009-09-24). "Palau to Ban Shark Fishing". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  11. ^ a b "Palau creates world's first shark sanctuary". Associated Press. September 25, 2009. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  12. ^ Jolly, David (March 9, 2011). "Maldives Ban Fishing of Sharks". New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2011.
  13. ^ PEW: Tokelau Declares Shark Sanctuary Archived 2014-02-26 at the Wayback Machine, 7 September 2011
  14. ^ "Guam islands vote to protect sharks". AFP. February 25, 2011. Retrieved February 28, 2011.
  15. ^ FOSTER, JOANNA M. (August 4, 2011). "Pacific Islands Band Together on a Shark Sanctuary". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2011.
  16. ^ "Shark Web Site". NOAA. Retrieved September 30, 2009.
  17. ^ BROWN, PATRICIA LEIGH (March 5, 2011). "Soup Without Fins? Some Californians Simmer". The New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  18. ^ "White Shark Trust - Conservation". Retrieved 2011-07-29.
  19. ^ "Taiwan to Establish Shark Finning Ban". PR Newswire. October 21, 2011. Retrieved 2 December 2011.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ "THE STATE OF WORLD FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE". Food And Agriculture Organization. 2008. Retrieved September 30, 2009.
  21. ^ a b Linn, Lisa (2008-12-15). "Shark fin soup alters an ecosystem". CNN. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  22. ^ FAO Fishery statistics Capture Production Vol.90/1 2000
  23. ^ a b Mahtani, Shibani. "Experts Swim Against Shark Fin Debate". WSJ. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 September 2013. Retrieved 3 February 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ "Shark fisheries and trade in Europe: Fact sheet on Italy". Retrieved 2007-09-06.
  26. ^ Pollack, Andrew (3 June 2007). "Shark Cartilage, Not a Cancer Therapy". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
  27. ^ a b Helfman, Gene S. (4 May 2009). The diversity of fishes: biology, evolution, and ecology. John Wiley and Sons. p. 226. ISBN 978-1-4051-2494-2. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  28. ^ "Seafod WATCH, National Sustainable Seafood Guide July 2009" (PDF). July 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-04-18. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
  29. ^ Pratt, H. L. Jr.; Gruber, S. H.; Taniuchi, T. (1990). Elasmobranchs as living resources: Advances in the biology, ecology, systematics, and the status of the fisheries. NOAA Tech Rept. (90).
  30. ^ Walker, T.I. (1998). Shark Fisheries Management and Biology.
  31. ^ Owen Gleiberman (2007-10-31). "Sharkwater Review | Movie Reviews and News". Archived from the original on 2009-04-25. Retrieved 2011-07-29.